It’s one thing to sit at a comfortable desk with a powerful computer, dictating away into a desktop microphone or wired USB headset that provides terrific accuracy in that environment. Most of us, however, don’t have the luxury of low background noise and a big, comfortable chair in front of a huge monitor all the time. In fact, sales of portable computers have outstripped desktops for many years now (you only have to look at Apple’s neglect of the Mac Pro and Mac mini lines to see where their priorities lie).
Getting the same level of accuracy I achieve at my desk has been an issue for a while for me – I don’t want to take my highly accurate desktop microphone on the road with me, so I’m often lumbered with a slightly less ideal headset (and, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a fan of wearing a microphone if I can help it). When Belgian company SpeechWare sent me their Standard USB TravelMike to take a look at, I approached it with an unhealthy level of geeky excitement. This is an external USB soundcard designed specifically for speech recognition – in fact, to merely call it a soundcard is something of an insult. As I quickly found, it’s far more than that.
It shares many of the same technologies as the USB TableMike that I recently reviewed and loved – and that’s a good thing. Things like Auto Gain Control, Auto EQ and a proprietary “de-clicking” algorithm that removes lip smacks and clinking coffee cups are all welcome here – but this microphone is truly unique in that it is genuinely portable. The company provides a carry case that houses the entire setup. This includes the USB “MultiAdapter” itself (with 3.5 mm headphone and microphone inputs), a couple of extension and right-angled connectors for optional use, a windscreen and, intriguingly, a 3.5 mm cardioid pivot microphone.
In keeping with SpeechWare’s other products, the design is all unashamedly functional and to the point, underscoring the versatility and flexibility of what you are buying. If you are one of the sensible people with a standard USB connector on your laptop or MacBook, congratulations – you can just plug the MultiAdapter into your computer and get to work. There are no drivers to install, just a few tweaks recommended by the company in their instruction guide to get things up and running perfectly.
I, on the other hand, have decided to live on the bleeding edge (a.k.a. foolishly own a new MacBook Pro with no legacy ports) and required a USB-C to USB-A adapter – a $3 one from Amazon worked just fine, even if the appendage sticking out of my computer is a little inelegant, to say the least.
To initially train the TravelMike, I performed a single dictation session of just under 2000 words on a brand-new profile dedicated to this device (this was using Dragon Professional Individual 6.0.7 for Mac – the results should be the same in Dragon Professional Individual 15 for Windows as both share the same recognition engine). Once this initial training was over (around 30 minutes), I dictated four sessions of new, unrehearsed text totalling around 3000 words. With such little “breaking-in” and the distance from the pivot microphone fluctuating between 15 and 20 inches each time, the results were astounding.
TEST 1: 100% accurate (!)
TEST 2: 98.7% accurate
TEST 3: 98.7% accurate
TEST 4: 99.7% accurate
AVERAGE: 99.3% accurate
Once I had got over my initial shock of achieving 100% accuracy at the first go, I came back down to earth with the next two sessions – although accuracy was still incredibly high, I had maybe got a little bit sloppy with the distance from the TravelMike. After making corrections and saving the profile, I exited Dragon for the final test. This time, I wanted to reopen the program with a reload of the updated profile and, astonishingly, the accuracy almost hit 100% again, tripping up on just one phrase. With an average 99.3% accuracy over the four sessions, the recognition wasn’t just stellar – it was also remarkably consistent.
Retailing at around $259, this isn’t a cheap piece of kit. Like SpeechWare’s other products, you are paying a premium for something designed specifically for maximum accuracy in Dragon (and, at an even deeper level, using the “Far Field” algorithms in the latest versions of the software). But here’s the thing – I have never been truly satisfied with a mobile microphone in the past. I’ve tried all sorts of miniature USB solutions with varying levels of success but nothing that has ever been at the level of my desktop setup.
This changes all of that. For a truly portable solution, SpeechWare have managed to produce something that not only matches but exceeds the accuracy of a huge number of far bulkier microphones out there. You can even plug a headset into it if you wish (and they have a solution for that too, which I’ll be reviewing shortly). To consistently hit near-100% accuracy from any device is remarkable, especially with such little training. To be able to do it anywhere you can take your laptop with a device that fits into your pocket is, for me at least, a dream come true.
The Speechware USB TravelMike is, by some distance, the most accurate portable dictation solution I’ve ever used. Now if only Apple would bring back proper USB ports. I guess you can’t have everything.
(Thanks to Speechware for sending me this product for an honest review. I do not receive any monetary compensation from the company and the links above are not affiliate links. I’ll be looking at their FlexyMike DEC very soon.)